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Why?/Why: - 4

Why is the Liturgy always the same thing, over and over--week after week?

 

Perhaps to a casual observer the use of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom presents a formula that seems repetitive. The thru is, every Liturgy is not the same. Liturgy differs with each celebration--the alternating weekly cycle, the particular feast, and the special seasons all add a degree of difference. Additionally, there are other liturgical expressions than the Chrysostom Liturgy. This could be a matter of instruction on the structure of the service--and paying attention.

Some are wont to say that the Liturgy (ancient as it is) is out of touch with modern times, and new ways of thinking need to be introduced. This idea is erroneous. The unfortunate thing is that people do not “update” their notion of what Church is all about, to see the relevance there is in it.

The Church is here to reinforce the idea that Jesus Christ is the “same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow” not in the idea of monotony, but in steadfast fidelity to Truth--which is one, which is unchangeable.

What does change is our appreciation of the depth of this truth, as it relates to our own changing experience. Liturgical services and other traditions of the Church are not arbitrary faddish ways of doing thing--but rather well-thought out and geared to speak directly to the needs of the human condition of any age.

People of older generations often experience comfort in familiar patters of worship--passed on by parents and grandparents. Often these faithful could be at vespers, matins or Divine Liturgy and sing all the verses of the various feasts with limited (or no) use of the large service books stacked up at the end of the pews. The repeated cycle of feasts and fasts offers a stability factor rooted in traditions that span ages and is graced with the wisdom of the structure of the services. In that is a certain comfort and nostalgia.

A bit younger generation may have fond memories of how their church accommodates their need--in as simple a way as having services, homilies and instructions translated into English. The matter of the Faith has remained constant--but the manner of expression has been integrated into the pattern of their lives.

Still younger people, conditioned by TV to visual and other sensory stimulation--sound, smells and activity--find icons, hymns, incense and processions attracting their attention. The great unfolding drama and production of Christ’s message are not lessened--but expanding presentation of faith.

Often people become unfocused upon the Liturgy because they have expectations fostered by the entertainment industry. Without critical thinking, the experience is that Church is not “exciting” because it does not “entertain”. It is not supposed to be a passively-attended “spectator sport”, stage production, or movie, but a venue of personal interaction. Maybe we have been remiss in injecting ourselves into the Liturgy!

What better way to get involved than to look deeply into the format and information of the Liturgy?

If it seems that Liturgy is not interactive--it is time to delve more deeply into it. If it seems boring and repetitious, it is time to see that there are changeable parts of every Liturgy: readings express a different focus every day; there is a variety of music available: the texts of troparia; the melodies of hymns. It is true that the Liturgy celebrated one Sunday differs from that of any other Sunday--and in some places this happens much more obviously. There are a number of versions of “Holy God”; the Cherubicon; the Lord’s Prayer’ the phrases “Lord, have mercy;” “Grant this, O Lord”; and “Alleluja!” available so that every celebration may be really unique. (This takes work on the part of the cantor and the congregation--but it happen--and renders the Liturgy more than “routine”).

It is insufficient to be a “casual observer” to the most important activity affecting eternal salvation. For our prayer to be effective, it must be a real experience, not merely a “get it over-with ’obligation’” to spend a certain amount of time in the building to “satisfy” God.

Real prayer allows “interactive” experience so sought after by the youth. Look, for example at video games. How enthralled, and challenged people are with the various levels of expertise required to master a game! The latest Wii systems now require no external gadgets to master any task wirelessly, relying upon sensors to respond to movements. The Liturgy is no different. We can approach Liturgy with no tools except our senses and our will to respond to it. Perhaps if Liturgy were approached with the same interest and intensity of seeking a game’s mastery, all could see how realistic it actually is. After all, the message of Liturgy is conquest (as in most games) of good ever evil. Its rewards are more real and lasting than any transient victory. Who is the “Sensor par excellence” if not God with whom we must all interact and react? At the Liturgy, at least, and at all other times at best.

The reality of “Christ is Born!” or “Christ is Risen!” far outstrips any game that flashes “You win! You win” You win!” in brighter and larger letters. The festivals and fasts of the Church have much more real interactive content than any screen of animated pixels can ever contain or suggest. An the consequences are greater--and further-reaching !

What does it take to make people interested in Liturgy? Maybe it’s involvement (in good Liturgy)! We are to be participants, not casual “drop-in” visitors. If it is expected that people of any age come only to endure a Sunday service, the real purpose is defeated. When people find full expression and experience of faith in every liturgy in which they take part--their memories will be filled with those same levels of those of ages past, passed on. Nostalgia and comfort will be based in this.

People of each age are present at the same Liturgy with different needs and expectations. It is possible that at the same service each need is me--because each person relates in a personal way. You approach the Liturgy not to take--but to give--and the more you give (of yourself) the more you come away wit--for now, for ever and forever.

 
By Fr Denny Molitvy



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